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Big time dancers mentor small town

Pimsler Dance Theatre’s Brian Evans (right) works with Lake Park-Audubon fifth grade students on a motion exercise Tuesday morning. DETROIT LAKES TRIBUNE/Brian Basham

This past Monday afternoon, a group of five dancers from the Stuart Pimsler Dance Theatre in Minneapolis performed for the students at Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School.

That performance marked the beginning of a two-week residency by SPDT at the Audubon building. On Tuesday, the dancers started working with 75 LP-A fifth graders on creating and performing in an original piece of performance art — which the students will be presenting to the public at the beginning of SPDT’s upcoming show at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes.

That show is set to take place at 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 19. Titled “Family Albums,” the show has an overarching theme of family legacies, traditions and stories passed down through generations, which the students’ performances will reflect.

“The concept is for these students to explore their own family histories and stories, and from these we will help them create an original performance work, blending movement, music and spoken word,” says Suzanne Costello, the dance company’s co-director (along with Pimsler himself).

Costello brought along four of the best teachers from her dance company to help work with the students; two more dancers from the Minneapolis company will join them in time for this Thursday’s show.

“We broke the students up into four groups,” Costello said. “Each group has a particular focus (within the overall theme).”

For instance, the group that Costello is co-teaching with Katherine Griffis (the company’s newest member) is focusing on family names; another, taught by Kari Mosel, is examining what countries the students’ families came from, and how they came to live in Minnesota; another, taught by Jesse Neumann-Peterson, will be examining family heirlooms and mementos, handed down from one generation to the next; and the fourth, taught by Brian Evans, will have a dual focus; finding out the unique traits that students have inherited from their parents, and investigating their holiday celebrations and traditions.

As the students began discussing these things with their performance teachers, they were asked to create movements to symbolize their unique traits, family stories, and traditions.

Gradually, a performance piece will be created for each group; Costello will then take these pieces and blend them into a single work of performance art, which the students will rehearse with the dancers and present with them on Thursday.

“It becomes a celebration of the class as a whole,” Costello said. “The performance will be videotaped and we will make it available to the students’ families as a memento.”

The student-led performance will make up the first half of Thursday’s show; for the second half, the students will be invited to join their families to watch the dancers perform.

“We will perform four pieces of our own,” Costello said.

Though the SPDT dancers have been meeting with their LP-A charges each morning for dance classes, that isn’t all that they’ve been doing this week: The group has also been engaged in a variety of workshops, classes and mini-performances in Detroit Lakes as well.

On Monday morning, the dancers joined a Silver Sneakers exercise class for older community residents, held at the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center. On Tuesday afternoon, they headed over to the Holmes Theatre for a workshop with developmentally challenged clients from Lakes Homes & Program Development; on Wednesday afternoon, they did a stretching class with residents of Essentia Health Oak Crossing nursing home; and on Thursday afternoon, they met with a group of Detroit Lakes High School special education students and teachers for a movement workshop.

Then on Friday, after returning from an early morning session with LP-A students, they did a brief movement and stretching session with attendees at a “Becker County Energize” community health assessment workshop at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Hospital.

Tomorrow (Monday), they will be doing a late afternoon dance workshop with advanced students at the Northern Lights Dance Studio in Frazee. After that, the dancers will be focusing on preparing the LP-A students for their performance, as well as rehearsing for their own portion of the show.

Taking two weeks out of their regular classes takes a real commitment of time and energy for the students, Costello added — and as a reward, they will not only get to perform with the SPDT company this Thursday, but they will get another chance to perform the dance piece they helped create in front of the rest of the LP-A student body on Friday morning.

“After that, we’ll do a wrap-up with the students before we leave,” Costello said.

Residencies like this one are part of the artistic mission of the Stuart Pimsler Dance Theatre, she added.

“It’s our mission to not only present the performance works Stuart and I create, but to provide opportunities for people to participate in the arts,” Costello continued. “In taking what we do artistically off the stage and engaging people in the community, there’s a greater potential for them to feel included in it. If they actually participate, it becomes personal to them.”

For more information about the Stuart Pimsler Dance Theatre, its mission, its dancers, and upcoming performances, please visit the website at

Tickets for Thursday’s show are $10 for adults and free for students, and may be purchased online at, by phone at 218-844- SHOW, or at the Holmes Theatre box office. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show; all seats are general admission.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454